How one speech forever connected Lou Gehrig, baseball and ALS

“For the past two weeks, you have been reading about a bad break,” Gehrig instructed the group, his voice thick with emotion, making the final phrase sound extra like ‘brag.’ “(Yet) today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

The “bad break” was his current analysis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, extra generally generally known as ALS. The progressive, degenerative illness impacts motor neurons within the mind and spinal wire that management muscle motion. It impacts speech, in addition to the power to eat, transfer and breathe.
Now, 80 years later, Major League Baseball is commemorating Lou Gehrig Day for the primary time on June 2: the day Gehrig turned a Yankees’ common in 1925, and the day he died in 1941 at simply 37 years previous. All 30 MLB parks are participating to advertise ALS consciousness and elevate funds for analysis.

Gehrig was an unlikely American hero. The son of poor immigrant mother and father, he was born in New York in 1903. “If it wasn’t for baseball, he really had very few prospects,” says Jonathan Eig, creator of “Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig.”

It was at Columbia University in 1921 that Gehrig first found baseball. Spotted by a expertise scout, he was later signed to the Yankees in 1923.

At a time when the whole nation was struggling by the Great Depression, Eig says Gehrig turned “a symbol of endurance.” Best identified for his 2,130 consecutive-game streak (a document that would not be damaged till 1995), Gehrig additionally held the document for profession grand slams till 2013, was voted Most Valuable Player twice, and gained the Triple Crown in 1934, one of the rarest feats in baseball.

“He’s the ‘Iron Horse,’ he’s the train: he shows up every day for work,” Eig says.

Despite his Hall of Fame profession, Gehrig by no means sought the limelight, says Eig — and with charismatic and controversial teammates, together with Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, Gehrig had little issue avoiding consideration.

But in 1939, he began lacking the ball and took himself out of the line-up. When he was identified with ALS six weeks later, his baseball profession formally ended. His retirement got here as a shock to teammates and followers alike, and the ceremony on July four put the highlight firmly on him, the place he reluctantly took the mic.

Gehrig pictured with his wife Eleanor, whom he called a "tower of strength" during his farewell address.

“Gehrig told the MC that he didn’t want to speak, that he was too moved to say anything. The crowd began to cheer, began to chant, ‘We want Lou, We want Lou,’ and finally Gehrig’s manager, Joe McCarthy, gave him a little shove and Lou went up to the microphone,” says Eig.

Filled with thanks for his teammates and household, the speech is an train in gratitude — “When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed,” he stated, “that’s the finest I know” — all of the extra outstanding given what Gehrig was dealing with.

“There’s a great lesson there for all of us, because we are all going to face tragedy. We are all going to die,” says Eig. “What Gehrig is saying is that it’s not the longevity that counts: it’s the quality of the life.”

Searching for a remedy

Eight many years after his dying, there stays no remedy for ALS, now generally known as Lou Gehrig’s illness within the US. But for the committee who created Lou Gehrig Day — a bunch of 25 people with ALS, caregivers and relations of these with the illness — it is about extra than simply honoring the baseball legend, says Larry Falivena, committee member and board member of the ALS Association.
Larry Falivena pictured with his family.
Diagnosed with ALS in 2017, Falivena quit his job in 2019 and set off on a three-month tour along with his household, visiting all 30 baseball parks to boost consciousness of ALS. “We called it the ‘Iron Horse tour,’ after Lou Gehrig,” says Falivena. “About halfway through the tour, some folks reached out to me with an idea to ask Major League Baseball to create an official Lou Gehrig Day.”
With the help of the groups Falivena visited on his journey, the committee approached Major League Baseball with its proposal. While particular person groups have been concerned in fundraising initiatives for ALS through the years, together with the Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014, this may be MLB’s first official nationwide ALS marketing campaign recurring yearly.
By rising consciousness, Falivena hopes that a few of the 169 active research projects throughout the US can get extra funding within the seek for treatments to improve life expectancy and a remedy for the illness. Since the committee started organizing Lou Gehrig Day lower than two years in the past, six of its members have died from the illness, together with co-founder Bryan Wayne Galentine, whom Falivena credit with the unique concept.

Activities will range from stadium to stadium relying on pandemic restrictions, says Falivena, and gamers, managers and coaches will put on particular uniform patches and crimson “4-ALS” wristbands bearing Gehrig’s retired Yankees’ uniform quantity, symbolizing a relationship that was cemented on a summer time day in 1939 when Gehrig bid farewell.

“I might have been given a bad break,” he instructed the followers that day, “but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

Falivena says that Gehrig and his speech “reflect the community of people with ALS.”

“They are people who, for the most part, are just extremely positive and face this devastating disease with hope, grace, and a fighting spirit,” he says. “I think that relates really well with Lou: he’s not only remembered as a great player, but as a good person.”

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